Drawings of Greco-Roman sculpture have the potential of ending up being somewhat kitsch. Hints of homoerotic content could well render them clichés. And whenever visual sources from the past are used, the blank parody of pastiche, as Fredric Jameson warned, could rear its ugly head. Tomaso De Luca's ambitious debut show at Monitor avoided such pitfalls with surprising ease.
The Monument, conceived as one piece, consisted of 300 well-executed ink, graphite and mixed-medium drawings based on ancient sculptures found throughout Rome, plus some from the Baroque and Fascist eras. With breezy, ironic humor, the artist rendered the statues absurd, vulnerable and alive, while normally they are somber, impervious and inanimate. Here, he depicted a sculpture of Pluto abducting Persephone while wearing one ice skate; there, he covered a drawn marble figure with strips of colored tape. In one composition, he smudged the sculpture beyond recognition; in another, he drew an ancient colossal marble foot strapped onto a dolly. De Luca's airy lines, fanciful imagination and deft use of materials bestowed upon the still, heavy historical artifacts a sense of movement. Covering three walls of the gallery (the fourth is a street window that the artist blocked with black adhesive paper), the drawings enveloped the viewer in a swirl of seemingly fleeting, fleeing statues.
De Luca imparted to his drawings the sense of physicality that, in his portrayals, he removed from the statues. He left all the works on paper unframed, and stood them on the floor leaning floppily against the wall, or hung them with only two nails each so that the bottoms lifted away from the wall. They were ethereal yet, paradoxically, substantial.
Interplays such as this one, between solid sculpture and ephemeral drawing, and juxtapositions of apparent opposites, pervade De Luca's work. In an earlier, two-part action, he had two Fascist-era statues of virile men—located in the dark recesses of cruising parks in two different cities—"meet" by holding up to each one a life-size drawing of the other. And in his 2011 performance Movement/Monument, a group of teenagers, with pieces of marble attached to the bottoms of their feet, hobbled along the route that World War II refugees of the bombed-out, working-class neighborhood of San Lorenzo traveled on their way to occupying the lavish Villa Torlonia, which had formerly been Mussolini's private residence.
De Luca revisits fertile critical themes, mapping the body as it pushes up against materials and as it moves through real and metaphoric space. With The Monument, which is fresher and more mature than his previous work, De Luca showed that he is coming into his own.
Photo: View of Tomaso De Luca’s installation The Monument, 2012, including 300 mixed-medium drawings; at Monitor.